We've seen a lot of "best of 2012" lists recently so we decided to make our own list of the top 12 cross country moments of 2012. They were tough to rank, especially the top three, so feel free to disagree with us. Then come join us or tune in on February 2nd to see some of what will undoudtedly be some of the best moments of 2013!
11. Lowry and Osika win USA Junior titles - The Junior races at the USA Cross Country Championships are always exciting as they feature some of the nation's top college freshman against the best high school athletes. 2012 was no exception with Michigan's Shannon Osika pulling away from high schooler Maggie Drazba to capture the women's title. The men's race was dominated by collegians with Syracuse's Jace Lowry notching a win over the Minnesota duo of Adam Zutz and Aaron Bartnik.
10. Cheserek defends Foot Locker Title - This fall New Jersey's Edward Cheserek became just the fourth boy to win back-to-back Foot Locker National Cross Country Titles. Cheserek polished off another undefeated season by pulling away from Virginia's Sean McGorty and North Dakota's Jake Leingang over the final mile for a six-second win.
9. Team USA sweeps NACAC Titles - 2012 marked the first year of the IAAF's new every-other-year format for the World Cross Country Championships which meant that the North American Central American and Carribean (NACAC) Championships would be the biggest Team USA Cross Country event of the year. The U.S. squads captured all four races and took home individual titles in all but one division. The Junior women pulled off a 1-4 sweep led by USA Junior Champ Shannon Osika.
8. Manlius and Arcadia win at NXN - The ladies of Fayetteville Manlius won their seventh consecutive NXN title on December 1st at the very muddy Portland Meadows course in Portland, Oregon. While winning seven in a row is an impressive feat no matter what, it was the fact that they did it in absolutely dominating fashion that ranks them so high here. With all five scorers in the top 19, their 54 point total outdistanced second place Southlake Carroll by a whopping 144, the biggest margin of victory in meet history. The boys race was equally as exciting but in a much different way. Pre-race favorites Christian Brothers Academy (NJ) finished only fourth leaving the door open for a surprise winner and it was a young Arcadia (CA) squad that took advantage, winning by 14 over American Fork (UT).
7. Bobby Mack wins USA Cross Country Title - In below-freezing temps, the Open Men's race at the USA Cross Country Championships came down to a two-man battle between adidas-McMillanElite's Aaron Braun and former NC State star Bobby Mack. Mack, seemingly unfazed by the conditions, pulled away over the rolling final half mile to win in 35:41.
6. Kithuka smashes the field at NCAAs - Last year Arizona freshman Lawi Lalng seemed unbeatable in cross country and perhaps on his way to winning an unprecedented four straight NCAA titles. Enter Texas Tech junior Kennedy Kithuka. Kithuka, an NAIA transfer, made his presence known early on with five straight wins including beating Oklahoma State's Girma Mecheso by over a minute at both the Chile Pepper Invite and the Big 12 Championships. Kithuka won again at the Mountain Regional before putting on a clinic at NCAAs where he pulled away from Lalang and his Arizona teammate Stephen Sambu to win comfortably in 28:31 over the 10k layout at Louisville's Tom Sawyer Park.
5. Rohrer falls, gets up and wins Foot Locker - At the Foot Locker Midwest regional in Kenosha, Wisc. Indiana sophomore Anna Rohrer made it clear she'd be one of the favorites to win the National title when she torched the rolling Midwest course in 16:54, a meet record. Two weeks later in San Diego, Rohrer tripped and fell in the first quarter mile at the National Championships but got right back up and eventually made her way back to the front. She then pulled away over the last half mile to win the coveted title by more than four seconds in 17:24.
4. Saina wins 3-way sprint to the finish at NCAAs - There is one title that means more than any other in collegiate distance running and that's the individual NCAA Cross Country Championship. This year's women's race was one of the most exciting in meet history with the three pre-race favorites entering the final stretch stride-for-stride. Perhaps the sentimental favorite after third place and runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011, Oregon's Jordan Hasay sat poised and ready to strike. Dartmouth's Abbey D'Agostino, who narrowly missed making the the U.S. Olympic team at 5,000 meters over the summer, was right there as well. Leading the way, though was the owner of the fastest 10k PR in the field, Iowa State senior Betsy Saina. Saina fought off a charge from Hasay and pulled away over the final meters for the thrilling win with D'Agostino nipping Hasay at the line for second. All three women finished within seven-tenths of a second of one another.
3. Oregon women and Oklahoma St Men win NCAAs - The Oklahoma St. men came out and dominated the NCAA Cross Country Championships despite having lost two of the best runners in their storied history, German Fernandez and Colby Lowe, to graduation in May. Girma Mecheso led the way in sixth place overall with their fith man, Shane Moskowitz, in 53rd. Their team total of 72 beat runners-up Wisconsin by 63. With all due respect to the Cowboys, the bigger story on the day was the women's race and for a number of reasons. First of all there were five teams that seemed to have an equally legitimate shot of winning coming into the meet. Second, a post-race timing snafu caused mass confusion and teams and fans didn't know the outcome for nearly a half hour. When it was all said and done, the women of Oregon hoisted their first team Championship trophy since 1987 and gave senior leader Jordan Hasay something to smile about after her heart-breaking near-win individually.
2. Sarah Baxter sets course record at Mt. Sac - We rank it second here but you could easily make the argument that California high school junior Sarah Baxter's smashing of the course record at the famed Mt. Sac cross country course was the most impressive performance of 2012. At a meet where former National Champions Jordan Hasay, Julia Stamps and Amber Trotter had all run super-fast times, Baxter put them deep into her rear-view mirror when she stopped the clock as a stunning 16:00. The run received national press including featured articles in the LA Times and on Yahoo Sports. The latter featured quotes from PrepCalTrack.com editor Rich Gonzalez who called Baxter's run, "The greatest high school performance ever."
1. Sara Hall edges Molly Huddle in a photo finish at USA Cross Country - Okay, so we're biased but in our minds there was no better pure race than the Open Women's Championship at the 2012 USA Cross Country Championships. Battling sub-freezing temps and howling winds, Sara Hall (Asics) and Molly Huddle (Saucony) battled step-for-step for 8,000 grueling meters before finishing with a stretch run for the ages. Huddle tried several times over the final quarter mile to drop Hall, who just kept fighting back. It looked like Huddle finally had some breathing room in the very final meters but as she began to raise her arms in triumph Hall caught up one last time and leaned across the tape. The announcer and the fans had not idea who'd won, nor did the officials. After analyzing the offical finish line photo for several minutes in the timing tent it was determined that Hall had just barely gotten across the line first. It was her first National cross country title and will certainly go down as the one of the most exciting races in the history of the Championships.